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Community rallies for Atwater police chief

Atwater Police Chief Trevor Berger is under the microscope after killing a chicken with a shovel. Berger grew up in Atwater, joined the Navy, returned and trained in law enforcement: “I feel badly Atwater is getting this kind of attention because of me. It’s a wonderful town. I just wish I’d known it was a pet.” (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)1 / 2
Camera operators from Fox News 9 and KARE 11 record the Atwater City Council meeting through the doorway Wednesday. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)2 / 2

ATWATER — A loud and vocal crowd crammed into the Atwater City Council chambers Wednesday night in support of the small town’s police chief who had received statewide, and even national, media attention this week for killing a boy’s pet chicken that was running loose in the homeowners’ backyard.

A formal complaint had been filed last month against Trevor Berger for trespassing and cruelty to animals.

Atwater City Attorney Brad Schmidt advised the council to listen to comments on the issue but not to take immediate action to ensure time for proper procedures to take place.

As he choked back tears, Trevor Berger apologized during the meeting for the way he handled the incident. He said he can’t change what happened but he would change how incidents are handled in the future.

“We can fix this,” said Berger, as many in the crowd of about 60 residents applauded.

Berger also presented a draft of a proposed “urban chicken” ordinance for the council to consider that would allow residents to keep up to five chickens.

The council is expected to discuss the ordinance at their meeting in October.

But many at the meeting not only expressed strong opposition to allowing chickens in town, they also voiced support for Berger and the action he took to dispatch the chicken that was being kept in town against the current city ordinance.

Much of the criticism wasn’t directed at Berger for decapitating the chicken with a shovel, but against homeowner Ashley Turnbull, who filed the complaint against the police chief.

“This is nothing more than bullying,” screamed one woman, referring to Turnbull’s complaint.

Others said Turnbull caused the problem by having chickens in the first place, not getting rid of them when she was warned to do so by police and for letting the hen get out of its pen.

Turnbull was visibly shaken by the response.

“Anguish” was the word she used to describe her feelings after the meeting.

She said she has a hard time believing others wouldn’t have also filed a complaint if police had killed their child’s pet.

Turnbull spoke very little at the public meeting about the complaint she filed against Berger and instead focused her comments on encouraging the council to adopt an ordinance to allow chickens.

She also asked the council if she and several other residents who had chickens in town this summer could keep — or bring back — their chickens in the interim.

Turnbull’s backyard chicken coop was empty on Wednesday.

She said Berger came to her house on Tuesday night and apologized face-to-face to her five-year-old son, Phoenix.

During that conversation, Turnbull said she agreed to move the two remaining chickens and two ducks to a friend’s farm until the issue was resolved.

That action was matched by her next door neighbor, Atwater Mayor Mark Olson, who had apparently been keeping an illegal pet rabbit in his yard, in violation of city ordinance. That rabbit has also been moved.

Turnbull said as far as she’s concerned, the issue between the police chief and her son is over done.

What she wants now is to be able to bring her son’s chickens back to town legally.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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